Port Au Prince
Ho Chi Minh City
Sea Level Rise
No. People Affected
Europe & Middle East
Rising Sea levels, melting glaciers and ice caps – We are already seeing the effects of climate change. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and climate experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometres (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006. While glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world – including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa. Both the extent and the thickness of Artic sea ice have declined rapidly over the last several decades.
“Winter as we know it is on borrowed time,” according to Elizabeth Burakowski, co-author of a new report from the Natural Resources Defence Council and Protect Our Winters, a climate-themed research group. Last winter was the fourth-warmest on record since 1896 with the third-lowest snow cover.
The rapidity of glacial melt brings in its wake Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), which unexpectedly, and with amazing suddenness, destroy entire communities. For example in mid-2010 in Peru a large slab of ice the size of several football fields broke off a glacier, plunging into a lake that created a Tsunami like wave 75 feet high, flooding 4 towns.
Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. More frightening is that the rate in the last two decades, is nearly double that of the last century.
Professor Stephen Hawkins in a speech to Oxford University students, sited the next 100 years as possibly the most dangerous in human history, with climate change being one of the most dangerous factors. The problem we have is that the evidence we have showing which direction we are heading in, still only tells part of the story. We don’t know what damage we have already done, and what the ramifications are, as certain occurrences can lead to other events that multiply the global warming effect. For example, these tipping points such as the collapse of a massive ice sheet can result in an extensive change in circulation of the North Atlantic, a rapid burst of methane (e.g. thawing Arctic permafrost), or a sudden shift in rainfall patterns. Once a tipping point commences, it is reminiscent of the Titanic’s initial collision with the Iceberg; thereafter there is no stopping the consequences.
If humankind continues to spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at ever faster rates (similar to what is, in fact actually happening) a tipping point is on the horizon. As an historical example of this phenomenon, Scientists at UCLA and Cambridge, in a joint research effort, identified a time millions of years ago when CO2 in the atmosphere ran 400 – 600 PPM for a sustained period of time, causing temperatures to run 5 – 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher. The Arctic was ice free, and both Greenland and Antarctica were largely ice free. Sea levels were about 60 metres higher.
The implications of rising sea levels are massive. The list below shows how many people would be affected depending on the sea level rise.
Just a 2 metre rise in sea levels, let alone a 60 metre rise could cause the displacement of over 530 million people. When you consider that 5million Syrian refugees have fled to other countries and the impact that has had on the world, it is difficult to see how civilisation could cope with this.
It is not just the poor that would be affected, the list of cities flooded and underwater should the worst happen is frightening to the point it resembles Armageddon. Cities that could be lost to rising sea levels: –
Desertification of the Worlds Arable Land – 20% of the earths land surface is covered by desert, each year, an area of fertile soil the size of New Mexico or Poland is swallowed by desserts and made useless for farming. Often in areas where people already are starving. In Africa alone, 36 countries are affected by desertification or land degradation. Some estimate that 75% of the entire continents’ farmland is rapidly losing the basic nutrients needed to grow crops.
The main reasons why deserts are growing, are climate change and human activities such as over intensive farming, poor irrigation and clearing of forests. Today, growing deserts are threatening an area larger than the combined area of the US, India, China and Russia (40 million square kilometres). It will be a huge challenge to secure food for everyone when our lands for farming are degrading, or disappearing, and the world’s population is growing by 200,000 people every day. Every year we lose about 42 billion US dollars worth of agricultural products because of desertification and drought.
Evidence that climate change has a significant impact on deserts, was found when researchers discovered that 6,000 years ago temperatures were 2.5 degrees higher than at present and the American Mid-West was a dust bowl. Further evidence was also found that a 2 degree rise in temperatures could result in the loss of 1/3 of the worlds’ fresh water within 85 years.
Marine Life Extinction – a planet without marine life, it may be coming this century. Ever since the industrial revolution, the oceans have absorbed 30% of global carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, excessive levels of CO2, in the oceans inhibit marine species from extracting calcium carbonate from the water. This is similar, in a twisted manner, to the suffocation experienced by people walking in the streets in Beijing, but marine life cannot wear protective masks nor can they stop acidification of their environment, which is caused by excessive levels of CO2. Ocean acidification today is concentrating faster than any other time in history, according to Dr Andy Ridgwell, University of Bristol, and School of Geographical Services.
Most of this CO2 is soaked up in the sunlight zone of the ocean which is where 90% of all marine life exists, so the possibility of a dramatic decrease or worse still is very real. However there are two even more worrying consequences of this issue. Firstly, the world consumes 100 million tonnes of fish per year, which could not only lead to starvation issues but also it is estimated that 500 million people rely on the fishing industry for their livelihood. Secondly, Phytoplankton is a micro-organism that lives in the upper sunlight zone of the oceans and it contributes between 30 – 50% of all oxygen produced on Earth.
Migration, Conflict and War – Dwindling resources leads to migration and conflict with countries and factions seeking access to and control of precious, dwindling resources – perhaps at the cost of others. The U.S. military is already aware of the impact climate will have on the security of nations as conflicts brew over competition for water, food, and land.
Bangladesh is an example of a splintering nation-state as land degradation, frequent storms, floods and droughts have caused 12 – 17 million Bangladeshis to move to India in the past few decades. The United States is another great example of how climate change can impact a nation. In the 1930’s in the Great Plains, prolonged drought conditions and dust storms caused 2.5 million people to pull up stakes and leave. In California, the immigrants faced beatings, and police were sent to the California border to prevent their entry. Finally it is estimated that because of drought, land degradation and water scarcity 600,000 – 800,000 Mexican environmental migrants move to U.S. urban centres annually.
Diseases – as northern countries warm, disease carrying insects are migrating further bringing with them disease and plague. As the temperature becomes warmer. It can affect the health of humans and the disease they are exposed to. The World Health Organisation (WHO) expects increases in disease such as Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Helminthiases, Haemorrhagic Fever, Dengue, Cutaneous Leishmaniosis, Oropouche, Visceral Leishmaniosis, Lyme disease, Red Tide, Rift Valley Fever, Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Extreme Weather Events – As mentioned, the balance of the worlds’ eco-system is very fragile and small changes can upset the balance of it exponentially and effectively lead to a domino effect. Our planet is already showing the stress of radical climate change, affecting the earth right before our eyes. The climate is different than when we were kids, and it is changing more rapidly than ever before. The only question going forward is how the drama of this transformation impacts the planet and human lifestyle.
These extreme weather events will manifest themselves in a number of ways. We can expect to see an increased amount of hurricanes and in particular an increased amount of the category 5 storms. Since 2000, there have been 9 category 5 hurricanes that have hit land – Hurricane Isabel, Ivan, Emily, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Dean, Felix and Mathew which have killed 1,000’s of people and cost over $160 billion. Obviously an increase in the number and frequency of these would be disastrous.
Frequent wildfires, which are a natural occurrence, will become increasingly more frequent and larger in scale as a result of the added carbon dioxide in the air and warmer summers. Increase in the size and number of fires especially near populated areas, will not only put people’s lives in danger but also cause extreme danger for wildlife.
Animal Extinction and the loss of biodiversity – Wildlife species which have taken thousands of years to evolve in order to survive in certain conditions, do not adapt to rapid changes in their environment, their eco-system is very delicately balanced. For example loss of habitat for polar ice edge communities such as the polar bears has seen a dramatic decrease in their numbers. Other examples include global warming and pollution causing coral reefs to suffer the worst bleaching with the highest dying record since 1980. Estimates from scientists, put the number of extinct species as a result of disappearing habitats and ecosystems acidic oceans caused by climate change in the hundreds of thousands.
There is so much evidence backed by scientific fact that climate change is very real and, if we don’t act has the ability to at the very least send us back to the Stone Age and possibly to the brink of extinction. Fortunately, there is a solution we need to cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to below 350PPM CO2 and sustain it before 2050. The only viable way to do this, is a complete switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Whilst we are seeing huge growth in renewables, to date we are still reliant on fossil fuels. The change needs to be faster, inter-country co-operation needs to be better and more efficient, but perhaps the tipping point lies in technology. The more cost effective, the more efficient we can make renewables and the easier the choice becomes for governments to choose renewables.